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Sales Strategy & Management

Mastering The Sales Process

When it comes to sales, a clear understanding of best practices will make or break your business.

Andrew Honey

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The nuts and bolts

Many businesses fail because they have no control of their sales process.

A good sales process:

  • Ensures your team is ‘engineered for success’
  • This should be present from the moment you employ them to every deal they close
  • It’s critical to place the prospect and customer at the centre of the process.

A sales process is the ‘sales way’ of the organisation. Every sales way is unique to the particular company, whether it’s a start-up or a large corporate. The sales process is a blueprint for how the company can best serve its customers, relative to its product or service offering. Ultimately, the key reason for developing a sales process is to ensure you drive maximum revenue.

In my experience many companies, small and large, do not have a well-defined sales process in place. My advice is to begin developing a sales process as a key priority within your company. Keep it simple, do a few things exceptionally well rather than many things in an ordinary way. If executed well, the results will follow far better than you can imagine.

A well thought out sales process enables:

  • Improvement in forecasting accuracy
  • Repeatability of successes
  • Sales managers converting from administrators to effective coaches
  • Sales teams shifting from sellers to value creators
  • Higher customer satisfaction due to improved professionalism
  • More frequent and higher conversion rates
  • Every activity of the sales force can be efficiently carried out by new employees
  • Management can adapt and improve the way the sales team engages with customers and ensure that the customers are getting the best benefit
  • Driving customer satisfaction is the key element on which all improvement is based.

Related: How to Make the Most of Every Sales Opportunity

Create a sales process methodology

Always start with the customer. Define all the elements required within your sales organisation relative to a customer’s needs. What customer needs can your company potentially deliver a solution for? Work backwards from that point of departure and you will be able to create all the required sales processes accordingly.

The best way to tackle the creation of a sales process methodology is to define the headings relative to your customers’ needs and then plot them backwards from the very end, such as after sales service and right back to how you recruit a new sales person. There is no blueprint or ‘how to’ template here as each company will (should) have its own customer centric sales way.

Creating a value-driven sales process

There are definitive elements which must always be included in a sales process and the starting point is to ensure your company creates and develops a value-driven, diagnostic-based system for selling.

Your sales engagement process needs to include how you discover, diagnose, design and deliver solutions for your prospects and ultimately customers. Essentially, it’s looking at all the key elements within the sales organisation and then creating a process for them that can be repeated again and again with improvement when necessary. That’s why the sales process methodology you develop remains a living document that must be tweaked and enhanced as required.

Beware of the Internet in your sales process

It’s important to note that the digital revolution has impacted the sales process dramatically. Research from Google and advisory company CEB, titled The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, provides new insight into buyer behaviour.

According to the study, customers reported being nearly 60% through the sales process before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point. Up to 57% of the sales process just disappears. What are buyers doing if they’re not talking to sales?

They’re surfing corporate websites to identify and qualify vendors instead of waiting for the sales team to qualify them. They are using social media to learn more about their needs, potential solutions and providers, and they’re reading, listening to, and watching free digital content that is available to them at the click of a mouse. No longer is the sales force the sole source of information.

It’s becoming increasingly important for sales to transition from being a ‘product pusher’ to an ’insight provider‘ adding value to the buyers’ business.

What does this mean for the sales organisation? No matter whether your sales team numbers one, three or 300, if those people are simply walking, talking product brochures, trying to tell a prospect why your product is better than another, they are going to lose.

Customers, or prospects in this case, know what your product does and what your competitors’ products do, and they may even know that better than the sales person does. So then what is the role of the sales person?

Related: Why You Probably Won’t Close that Deal

A look at sales metrics

Sales metrics are used to understand the effectiveness of marketing and sales activities and the efficiency of the sales process. They are all the things that a sales organisation needs to do to greatly increase the likelihood of achieving target.

The starting point

  • Start with territory alignment, territory management and sales force sizing
  • What is the size of your total available market?
  • How many people do you need to maximise reach into this market?
  • What is the achievable revenue?
  • What is the average deal size?
  • How many appointments do you need so that you can submit proposals and increase the possibility of closing those deals?

An appointment can be a follow-up to check that what you have sold to someone has been delivered. It could be an appointment that forms part of the way you engage to find a solution and close the deal.

  • How many calls do you need to make every week to secure those appointments?
  • How many deals do you need to close to achieve target?
  • How big should your pipeline of prospects be? This is the number of companies you’re engaging with who may potentially buy your product.
  • The sales metrics must be predetermined and inspected and reviewed regularly, daily or at the very least, weekly.

Sales metrics are always related to the target

  • If the sales person has a target of R100 000 per month and the average size deal is R20 000, they will have to close five deals a month to achieve target.
  • Working backwards from that, and depending on the industry, let’s say 20 appointments per month are required in order to close five deals.
  • This means your sales person is closing one out of four. If you prospect and qualify correctly, your team may be able close one out of three. Having the figures to hand can help you shorten the sales cycle and raise performance to deliver a phenomenal increase in revenue.
  • Metrics also display how much progress has been made towards the goal of closing the deal.

Developing sales metrics ensures a systematic process you can repeat over time and begin to perfect.

The best way to track metrics is to have a CRM system in place, but the software will mean nothing if you do not have a process in place for how that information is entered into the system.

Diaries need to be populated correctly. If you’re reading this article, take a look at the diaries of your sales force, see how much white space there is, and ask what that sales person is doing during their ‘white space’ time. You will be shocked at the low levels of activity!

Diaries should be colourful and vibrant: Blue for appointments, red for admin, green for follow-ups, whatever colours you choose. And if you see a number of appointments being made for 3.00pm, do your company a favour and give one of those prospects a call to find out how the meeting went. That may well be your second surprise!

Being a trusted advisor; mediocrity to excellence

Develop a culture within your sales organisation by transforming your sales reps from sellers to advisors. By advisor I mean a person who can accompany the prospect through a process of discovery and diagnosis of their needs, talking very little along the way and rather asking intelligent questions to ascertain what that person’s real need is and to expose them to fresh, new ideas — and ultimately to highlight the cost of not changing as well as the real benefits of changing.

It’s not about selling; it’s about ascertaining true need and finding a solution.

This consultative approach to selling starts with the people you employ and the moment they join the organisation. It’s about a culture and that starts with the owner of the business.

How are you as a leader? Is trust fundamental to the way you operate? If you as the leader of a business do not elicit trust-based character traits it’s going to be a barrier to your own selling success and that of your team. That’s because the only differentiator you have in today’s commoditised economy is not your product or your service.

You can differentiate only through adding value to that prospect’s life by being a trusted advisor. Do not sell for yourself; go out there and engage for the betterment of your customer. And it all begins with your sales process.

Developing sales discipline through inspection and metrics

If you do not have a manual with the processes, methodologies and structures in place you are unable to monitor, review and coach your sales team and discipline will be lacking or non-existent. It’s as simple as that.

To quote the late Chet Holmes, ”What you do not inspect, they do not respect.“ If you want your team to respect your policies or processes, make sure they know what you expect, all of this outlined in your process manual. You will be truly amazed at the results that will follow.

Andrew Honey is the Group CEO of Entrepreneur Media SA, ThinkSales Corporation and SmartCompany Networks. He is passionate about sales and sales leadership. In 1999 he led Freewind Publications to display outstanding sales service and sales acumen at the annual Marketing Mix Magazine MOMA (Media Owners Marketing Awards) where the company defeated sales teams from large publishing houses such as Media24, Caxton, Associated, Ramsay Son & Parker and Oracle Airtime Sales (M-Net).

Sales Strategy & Management

5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Losing Customers

Ever think about why people keep buying iPhones, even though they’re so darned pricey?

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Like it or not, your business is losing customers. Recent research from McKinsey & Company revealed that only 13 percent of customers surveyed said they were loyal to a single brand. The research found that 87 percent of customers surveyed said they shopped around, and 58 percent had switched to a new brand.

Why do people shop around? What motivates them to abandon the businesses they know and buy products or services from competitors? It’s time that you take a close look at why your business is losing customers – and, what you can do to fix it.

Here are five common reasons why customers leave small businesses … and effective tips you can use to start turning the tide.

1. You’re guilty of poor customer service experience.

Few things can sour a customer experience more quickly than poor customer service. To a customer, your support team is your business. Shauna Geraghty, a clinical psychologist and head of talent at the global customer support innovator TalkDesk revealed on the company’s blog that over 90 percent of customers who are dissatisfied with your customer service experience will — rather than telling you that something is wrong and how you can improve it — just not come back.

So, if you’re not paying attention to your customer-service policies and performance, there’s a good chance that neglect is costing you customers.

This is one reason why some companies, including Comcast, create create support-focused accounts like @comcastcares on Twitter. These accounts are public and are known for helping customers to resolve problems quickly.

Related: How to Lose Customers through your Website

What you can do:

Outline thoughtful, positive customer service practices. Start with an internal audit of the policies that govern your team. Conduct interviews with customer-support managers and representatives.

Assess what company policies have led to customer dissatisfaction. What internal issues are preventing your reps from supporting customers quickly and effectively? Use this data to improve your customer service practices.

Then, bear in mind these three golden rules of customer service:

Respond quickly. Acknowledge when a mistake is made and make it right.

Treat the customer with respect and empathy.

Support your customer support team. Give your customer service team the resources they need to provide your customers with awesome service. This includes the technical infrastructure as well as the autonomy to make choices that will benefit your business and support your customers.

2. Your product or service failed to meet expectations

Disappointed customers are likely to share their disappointment with friends on social media. And angry customers will post angry reviews for other prospective customers to see.

What you can do:

Design and build a quality product or service. Don’t think that marketing magic or any amount of other business trickery is going to make up for a poor product or badly executed service. So, work with a talented product designer.

Test. Build with quality materials. Adapt your service based on customer feedback.

Do whatever it takes to create and deliver a service or product that is worth paying for.

3. You didn’t show the value

valuePrice is what a customer pays. Value is what a customer gets. Sales expert and emotional intelligence coach Liz Wendling pointed out on her blog that customers don’t necessarily choose only “the lowest price or the cheapest in town.” Customer preferences, she said, have nothing to do with price and everything to do with the value you are conveying. When your potential customers tell you it is about the money, wrote Wendling, that is actually customer code for “show me the value.”

This is certainly one reason why Apple continues to dominate when it comes to smartphone profits. In Q4, 2017, Apple captured 87 percent of smartphone industry profits but accounted for only 18 percent of total units sold. Customers, clearly, are buying iPhones because they believe that Apple products deliver more value, despite the higher price.

What you can do:

Identify your unique value proposition. What awesome value do you bring to your customers that other businesses don’t? This is your unique value proposition.

Clearly articulate your unique value proposition on all platforms. Publish the benefits of your product or service on your website home page.

Educate your customer support and sales staffers so that they can speak fluently about the value included in your pricing.

Feature your unique value proposition on the landing page for every offer. (Check out https://www.crowdspring.com/blog/landing-page-guide/this article to learn more about creating effective landing pages.)

Related: 3 Ways To Stop Taking Your Most Loyal Customers For Granted

4. Your business is Inconsistent

In business, and in life, consistency breeds trust. Things that are consistent can be relied upon. And, things that can be relied upon don’t need to be worried about. Inconsistent branding, including using your company’s name or logo differently on your own site and on social networks, plus inconsistent quality or service, all have the potential to drive customers away.

United Airlines learned this lesson the hard way when young women wearing casual wear were not permitted to board a flight unless they changed out of Spandex leggings. Yet any traveler is going to see many, many women at the airport wearing leggings. And there’ was no previous record of United barring others from flying for wearing leggings. That’s why this particular decision created a social media firestorm and lots of confusion.

What you can do:

Deliver an experience customers can rely on. This starts with you and your employees.

Educate all of your employees about what a good customer experience should look like.

Create a branding guide to establish uniform branding guidelines and share it with your team.

Hold your employees accountable for delivering a consistently positive customer experience.

Create strong customer interaction policies. Whatever your policies are, make sure that they will serve your customers well before you implement them. Then stick with them! Be consistent.

5. Your sales tactics are out-of-date.

Aggressive sales techniques are more likely to drive customers away than lead to positive results. Leslie Ye, for HubSpot, wrote that the old sales playbook — dragging prospects through a sales process and strong-arming them into a purchase — worked only because there was no better way for buyers to buy.

If your sales techniques focus on manipulating or coercing a sale, your business is actively chasing customers away.

What you can do:

Employ value-based selling techniques. Take the time to learn what your customer actually needs. Then offer value-based solutions that address those needs. Show how your product benefits the customer and allow them to decide if it’s the right fit for them.

Build relationships with your customers. If you’re trying to sell with every single customer interaction, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, focus on establishing trust with your prospective customers.

Have honest interactions and provide value through useful content and entertaining social media engagement. Then, when a customer needs the product or service you provide, he or she will turn to you, a trusted resource.

The key to growing a business is to maintain the customers you already have while acquiring new ones. So, stop leaking customers. The success of your business depends is at stake.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Sales Strategy & Management

How To Find The Right Salespeople: And Attract Them To Your Business

A key part of finding star talent to join your business is to start the process much earlier than you need to, by building a strong talent pipeline – also known as a Virtual Bench.

Andrew Aitken

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In a previous article, we discussed the 3 things business owners and sales managers should be concerned about when trying to increase sales in a systematic, more sustainable manner. The first of these is to hire a sales team consisting of A-players, and as the owner of a business, you’ll know how hard it is to find this kind of talent.

A key part of finding star talent to join your business is to start the process much earlier than you need to, by building a strong talent pipeline – also known as a Virtual Bench.

Related: 3 Ways You Should Use Data Science to Skyrocket Sales

What is a Virtual Bench?

A virtual bench is the concept of building a pool or pipeline of strong, A-player talent before you need it. Like sports coaches in team sports who always have players on the bench that are ready to play when needed, you too, need to have a pool of people that can fill new spots and substitute existing players on your team when necessary. A virtual bench is about ensuring that you don’t only think about hiring when the need arises – as doing so can have painful, costly effects on your business.

Always be recruiting, even if you don’t yet have a position to fill.

How to build a Virtual Bench of A-player talent

1. Use your existing contacts

Go through your existing contacts – on your phonebook, on LinkedIn, etc. and shortlist, from your past experiences, which of them are A-players that you would like to have working with you one day.

  • Keep in contact with the people on this list – let them know that you believe they are talented and have a great attitude, and that you are always looking for great people to join the business. Make an appointment to meet with them to discuss where they are in their careers and what their future plans are. Use this meeting to get to know them even more and unearth possible synergies where you could potentially work together in future.

2. Keep an eye open at social functions and networking events

Use regular social interactions to identify people you could work with one day. Speak to the people you meet about what they do and about their future plans. Also ask mutual friends or acquaintances about your new contacts, so that you have a clearer picture of who they are. Then keep in touch to nurture your relationships with them.

Related: How To Structure A Fair Salary That Will Motivate Your Sales Team

3. Work with your marketing team

Most of the support you need when building your virtual bench should be from your marketing team and not necessarily your HR team.

Sit down with your marketing team to see what content and campaigns they can run to attract the right people to your business. A-players are attracted to organisations that have a clear mission, distinguishable energy and drive, as opposed to merely seeking a job and a regular paycheck. So, create content that portrays:

  • Who you are as a business and what you stand for
  • Who your customers/clients are
  • The wins you are getting
  • What the working culture is like in your organisation

If you think about hiring in this forward-thinking manner, you’ll be sure to not only prevent a scramble when you need new talent to join your business, but it could help you prevent a lot of costly mis-hires.

Keep an eye out for our next article in this series: What core skills do your salespeople need to have?

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Sales Strategy & Management

5 Lessons On How You Can Deliver A Product Your Customers Actually Want

By learning quickly and failing fast, yourself, you’ll be better able to keep in step with customer expectations and respond to their needs.

Victoria Lawson

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When Zappos.com founder Nick Swinmurn had the initial idea to launch an online shoe retailer in the ’90s, he sought out the leanest way possible to test whether customers were willing to buy shoes online. Instead of spending time building an infrastructure and inventory systems, Swinmurn went to local shoe stores, took pictures of products and posted them online.

If a customer purchased the product, Swinmurn bought the shoes from the brick-and-mortar store at full price to ship to his customer. When the concept actually worked, he knew it was go-time.

Almost 20 years later, in today’s retail environment, adopting this type of low-risk, lean-startup mentality, with a “fail fast, fail cheap” approach, is the number one strategy for success. Here are five lessons to help you nail product innovation through an agile approach.

Take lean to the extreme

Forget about scaling at the beginning. Instead, identify and embrace the bare minimum you need to develop an end-to-end solution, even if it’s manual.

Then build out a basic product infrastructure to mimic a more scalable process and iterate as you progress through development and validation.

This is called the “garage phase” of innovation. Thought leader and author Marty Cagan explained a similar “light-weight” process to product development in his book, Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

By embracing a lean approach, Cagan wrote, you’re making room for the next great idea and continuing to discover and improve with each step you take along the way.

Don’t overcomplicate

Consider simple solutions that are as innovative and personalized as they are valuable for your customer and business objectives.

Related: Saab Grintek Defence’s Strategies For Staying Lean and Competitive

Recently, our company, CarMax, launched 360-degree-camera technology to allow shoppers to interact with 360 photos on carmax.com and experience the inside of a prospective car as if they were sitting in it.

The goal was a more optimized and personal online customer experience, and it started with a selfie stick. This basic low-cost solution required little time, training and resources, and was quickly scalable.

Starbucks is another example: The company excels in creating a simple customer experience because of its focus on seamless personalization: Baristas serve coffee ID’d by the customer’s name, and each location has the same look and feel but is personalized to the geographic location.

Recognise that innovation doesn’t happen in a lab

Don’t isolate your R&D in a lab; instead, send your team out to the field while developing your solution, in order to deliver real-time adjustments and build your awareness of variables you may not have considered before.

Test different approaches, speak with customers and stakeholders and understand all the possible challenges or failures that could happen.

When Nordstrom was attempting to develop a digital way to help sunglass shoppers make a purchase decision, members of the innovation team embedded themselves at a Nordstrom store for a week, talking to real customers, showing prototypes and adjusting those product samples based off those customers’ feedback.

Innovate for both internal and external audiences

Remember the two “customers” you’re innovating for — both the end user and the associates who will be using the product.

By finding a simple solution that works for everyone and training for the rollout, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

Qualitative testing and immediate feedback can also help your team better understand usability and the overall customer experience the product is delivering. A product just might fail if there’s a lack of understanding about its functionality.

Avoid product remorse

By starting with a minimum viable product, you’ll be able to get something in front of customers as early as possible before you’ve invested too much time and energy into it.

Related: How To Determine Your Minimum Viable Product

Take a page from Jeff Gothelf’s book, Lean UX, and don’t sit on value or wait to arrive at a perfect solution before implementing at the level of “good” can be good enough and be your starting point for further iteration.

You’re not going to learn everything and anticipate every problem before you introduce a product. And, if you wait too long, the market may shift.

Before co-founding Groupon, Andrew Mason spent almost two years working on a product called The Point, an online platform for social activism.

While The Point never gained steam, Mason did observe his customer base using a featured offering for a group discount on products. Because of good timing and openness to learning, he was able to pivot and create Groupon.

By learning quickly and failing fast, yourself, you’ll be better able to  keep in lock step with customer expectations, to leave behind the ideas that aren’t helping your customers and to deliver the experience your customers want today.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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